21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Belief in the Eucharist, Part 1)

This weekend presents us with yet another challenging Gospel reading. In his long journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus responds to the question of how many people will be ‘saved’. He says “Strive to enter the narrow gate”, inferring that his way is the harder way. But then Jesus offers a parable, describing a time to come, when the master of the house has locked the door, and suddenly everyone wants in. They knock, pleading: “Lord, open the door for us….We ate and drank in your company”. To which he responds, I don’t know where you are from….Depart from me!

It makes me think of a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center[i], who on August 5th released results of the survey given to nearly 11,000 Americans who self-identify as Catholic, asking whether they believe that the Eucharist is the True Presence of Jesus or instead, merely a symbol—in other words, just bread and wine.

The results indicated that only 31% of Catholics believe in the True Presence, while 69% regard it as a symbol. It’s not clear if participants represented all parts of the U.S., nor is it clear if those polled were practicing Catholics.

The survey also asked those who participated if they know the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist and transubstantiation. I also learned recently that among Catholics 40 years of age and under, the number of those who believe in the Eucharist is only 20%, which seems to indicate that unbelief is a growing trend. And probably most of us would surmise that if this poll had been conducted 50 years ago, we would have seen a higher percentage of those who believe in Jesus’ True Presence in the Eucharist.

 So, lest there be any doubt among us here, let’s say it, that as Jesus declared, “My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:55), and as was echoed by St. Paul (1 Cor 10:16) and the early teachers of the faith, such as Ignatius of Antioch and Justyn the Martyr; and further echoed by the witness of Christian martyrs who died for this belief—let us state clearly what we believe: The Eucharist 1) is a primary source of our communion; 2) it is the sacrificial memorial of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery; 3) it is "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of (Jesus)….truly, really, and substantially contained" (CCC, 1374).

 But considering the result of the Pew Survey—that so many Catholics don’t know the teaching on the Eucharist, and that ever-more Catholics don’t believe what is taught, we might ask: Does it really matter? After all, I try to be a good person. I don’t wish or cause harm to anyone or break society’s laws. So, does it really matter? Even more, one might wonder that since it’s not part of the Creed, maybe belief in the True Presence isn’t central to the practice of our Christian faith. Again, does it matter? A second question we might ask is: What or who is to blame for this trend toward unbelief?

Regarding the first question, it does matter—gravely so. And as for what caused this trend, there’s no single cause. In the coming weeks—because there’s more to say on all this than can be expressed in a single homily—I plan to make this the first of what will be either two or three parts. For anyone who’s not able to hear any particular part, my homilies are available on our parish website.

 For each one of us here and now, regardless of how strong or not our belief, I suspect….

  1. that there’s some place deep within us that realizes there’s more to all this than is visible to the eye and grasped by human reason;

  2. that there’s something, someone who created all this, that even the most advanced sciences do not fully understand;

  3. that some part of us knows there’s more to us than just our bodies and our consciousness;

  4. that everyone of us wants and thirsts for something more than we currently know, have and experience, evidenced by the fact that we’re never entirely satisfied in this life;

  5. that each of us wants there to be something more, something better beyond this life, and;

  6. that none of us has a clue how much we are loved.

With all this in mind—in any way these six assertions are true—I further believe that none of us wants to find ourselves on the other side of death hearing God say to us: You had a chance to know me. I made myself known to you, you ate and you drank….and even more, you had a chance to help your children to know me, but you made other things a priority…..I don’t know you….Depart from me! For all the ways that the Eucharist requires belief, let’s start by exercising our desire to believe, to know the God who comes to us, who makes Himself known to us, truly alive and present in the Eucharist.

[i] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/05/transubstantiation-eucharist-u-s-catholics/